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Giving our all to Jesus

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Luke 7:36-50
3rd Sunday of Trinity
(16-6-13)

At the moment we’re looking at what the Bible teaches about money. We began last week with an Old Testament story of the Widow of Zarepath who was living at a time of great famine. Elijah told her to bring him some bread. She says that all she has is a handful of flour and a little oil with which she’s intending to make her son and herself one last meal before they die of starvation. Elijah tells her not to be afraid but to go and first make it for him and afterwards make it for herself because God will replenish what she uses.

We also had a gospel reading with Jesus talking about money. Jesus spoke more about money than anything else. Is that because he thought money was a problem? No, Christ never said money or material things were problems. He said that they were symptoms of real problems. Life consists of the spiritual, and the material and I think Jesus used the ‘material’ rather like a gauge which shows the level of our spirituality.

This is what we heard Jesus saying last week (Matthew 6) ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.'

We’re now going to have this week’s gospel reading which, I think, will help explain this considerably more than I was able to do in last week’s all-age service. Luke 7:36-50

In walking this earth as one of us Jesus knows of the things we struggle with. He was aware that people struggled with managing their money. He dealt with money matters because money does matter.

There’s an old Jack Benny sketch where an armed robber approaches him and demands, “Your money or your life!” Benny hesitates and says nothing. The robber demands, “Well, what will it be?” and Benny replies, “Don’t rush me, I’m thinking about it!”

Jesus used illustrations about money as an index to someone’s true character. Throughout the Bible there’s a close correlation between the development of a person’s character and how they handle money. Rather like some might attach our purse to our wrists with a strap or wallets clipped to trousers God connects our wallets to our heart and this passage is a superb example of this.

This passage is not the same one that we had just before Easter about Mary anointing Jesus. There are similarities, not least being that the anointing of feet signifies preparing someone for burial. However, this passage is set much earlier on in Jesus’ ministry, and this woman is a well known sinner. All sorts of traditions have grown-up around this story, that the woman is Mary Magdalene or a prostitute but none of that is fact. Suffice to say she was a sinner who gate-crashed a dinner party hosted by a very religiously correct Pharisee. And the contrast between this man of religion entertaining Christ and the sinful woman lavishing Christ with tears and perfume is important.

He says Jesus cannot possibly be a prophet otherwise He’d know what a sinner she is. Jesus shows how much of a prophet He really is by exposing the ‘religious’ man’s sin. Jesus, as usual, gives a very practical explanation showing that the person who has much to be forgiven will be more grateful. The Pharisee ‘supposes’ he can see the answer to Jesus’ question but its obvious that he doesn’t really understand. The woman, well aware of her standing before God is consequently overwhelmed with gratitude at being forgiven. The Pharisee cannot be overwhelmed with gratitude because He doesn’t think he’s a sinner or if he does it’s only for little sins, there’s no real understanding of what being forgiven means. The way the woman acts, loosening her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, was shocking. If someone here suddenly did this we’d be shocked - most of us are British don’t you know! But she does it in total oblivion of what others might think, she’s giving herself to Jesus, giving her TOTAL worship and backing it up by pouring the perfume out. Perfume that would’ve been VERY costly, a year’s wages. Possibly her dowry. Definitely it was in a sealed jar which meant that the only way to pour it out was to break the jar. Like the widow of Zarepath, she gave everything, everything in her worship to Him.

She knew Jesus was all she needed. His forgiveness of her sins was her assurance of life rather than condemnation to death. Her tears, her humble attitude, and her expensive gift all spoke of a changed heart, her everything now lay in the kingdom of heaven. The Pharisee didn’t know this, he could only see the things that mattered in order to continue his existence in this life with no eye on what was to come.

There’s a story of a man boarding a ship carrying his entire wealth in gold coins. A storm blows up during the voyage and everyone’s told to abandon ship. Strapping his bag of money around his waist, the man jumps overboard promptly sinking to the bottom of the sea. Did he have the gold or did the gold have him?

Jesus goes on to point out that, although the Pharisee’s invited Him as a guest, He’s not been given those things that were customary extras at a meal. Rather like when we go for meal we expect a chocolate mint with our coffee/tea. Simon was giving a considerable bit to the Lord in having Him for a meal, but he was very far from giving his all. We can be sure that his providing Jesus with this meal wasn’t going to leave him destitute!

The important thing we need to take from this story is who are we most like? The religious man inviting Jesus into the parts of our lives that we think we can afford to give. Or are we like the woman, giving everything, literally everything offered in worship of Jesus? A Christian has to give ownership of everything in their life to God, be it money, possessions, time, family, even and especially, our pride so that we come to Jesus, as she did, in true humility.

The issue isn’t really so much about whether we store up wealth but more about where we do our banking. Earthly treasures are unstable and insecure, Jesus challenges us to make long-term investments that are permanent and guaranteed. Deposits made in the Bank of Heaven won’t decay or disappear because they are protected and insured by God Himself.

In telling us to store up treasures in heaven Jesus is pointing out that usually our heart follows our money. Most of us tend to think it's the other way round and our money follows our heart, therefore if our heart is right, we’ll spend our money wisely. But Jesus says it doesn’t work like that because our hearts actually follow our treasure. Whatever we invest our time and money in becomes important to us.

If we spend all we have on things of this world then no wonder we have trouble concentrating on the things of God. The trouble comes from investing everything down here and hardly anything up there! And those things down here can become very important. That’s why Jesus says you can’t worship God and money. He uses the word ‘Mammon’ for money, giving it a name as a rival to Himself. It becomes something that fights for supremacy in our lives. It takes on many of the characteristics of a deity. It promises security, freedom and power. But we can’t have both God and money. Our treasure is where our heart is.

Are we prepared to give up earthly treasures to embrace spiritual ones? What means more to us in life: salvation or material things? Is there anything we love more than God or wouldn't give up for God? This sinner loved Jesus and was willing to pour herself, and the most valuable possession, she had on Jesus.

We mustn’t think she was saved by her tears and her gift. Jesus says it was her faith alone that saved her, no amount of good works can pay for salvation. Simon was blind to the woman and blind to himself. He saw her past, but Jesus saw her future.

She is an encouragement to us that Jesus can take any sinner and make us into a child of God because He was willing to pour Himself out for us.

Whatever did we do to deserve that? How much more should we be lavishing on Him? What are we willing to pour out? Are we willing to give Jesus everything we have? Jesus was willing to lay down His life for us because He loves us.

Worship is pouring yourself out, laying down your life in honour of the One who is greater than you. Where does your worship lie? God never forgets the worship we give Him. He may forget our good deeds and donations but when we truly worship, love and adore Him, when our love makes us sing praises from our hearts, that’s something that lasts forever! Let me ask you where your heart is today?

A rich man died and went to heaven. As he went through the Pearly Gates, Peter came to greet him and said, “Welcome to heaven. Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

That suited the rich man just fine, because as he looked around, he saw mansions stretching out in every direction. They were beautiful! They appeared to be constructed of gold and silver and precious gems.

As Peter and the rich man began to walk along the streets of gold, they came to an ornate home. As they paused to gaze at it, the rich man said, “Who gets to stay here?” Saint Peter replied, “That’s for the person you’ve been employing has a gardener/odd-job man. He’s a very godly man who loves Jesus and served Him all his life. This is his reward.”

They continued to stroll past other mansions, until they stopped in front of an extremely large one that seemed to be made of emeralds and rubies. The rich man asked Peter, “Is this mine?” Peter answered, “No, this one belongs to your housekeeper. On the little bit of money you’ve been paying her, she’s raised six children and given to her church every week.”

They continued to walk and came to a different section of homes. Only these houses weren’t as nice. As they walked up a small hill, they stopped in front of a shack made of cardboard and used sheet metal. The front door was cut out of an old fridge. It was held together with bailing wire and twine.

After pausing for a moment, the rich man asked, “And whose is that?” Peter responded, “This one’s yours!” The rich man couldn’t believe it. There must be a mistake. Peter bowed his head and said, “No, there’s been no mistake, we’ve done the best with what you sent ahead.”

What are you giving God. Where is your heart? Is your heart with Jesus or the things of this world? What is Jesus worth to you? For this sinner, He was worth everything she possessed.

This story shows an act of contrition. Placing oneself at Jesus feet to worship him, having the faith to know He has the power to release us from the bondage of our sins, whatever they might be. It shows the result of our being able to do this for He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

At the very end of this service I shall say: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. When we know and understand that God gave everything, even His own Son to die for us, then will be wiling to give our hearts, our life, our worship to Him and indeed know this peace for ourselves. Its been said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

But of course we may not yet really be fully aware of this truth. We aren’t born knowing it, we have to learn and think about it. And if that’s the case then perhaps the more important question we need to ask ourselves is this: are we truly seeking God with all of our heart? Amen.

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